Coffee Intro is a roastery and cafe established in Taichung in 2016. We spoke with Ms. San Huang and roaster Ms. Weng（Weng erh wei）, who co-founded Coffee Intro after working together at three different cafés and coffee shops since they first met about 10 years ago. (Titles are omitted hereinafter)
The journey begins with a cup of coffee
The name “Coffee Intro” is like an introduction to a song, leading you into the world of coffee. We hope that our coffee will be the starting point of many specialty coffee journeys.
The idea behind the name Coffee Intro comes from one of San, the founder of the company’s experiences.
Without much thought, San went to work for a commercial coffee shop chain in Taipei after graduating from college, thinking, “I’m lucky to have a job where I can drink coffee every day.” Although it roasted its own coffee, it was the kind of place that served mass-produced, inexpensive coffee as takeout to office workers.
It was the early 2010s when it was still difficult to find specialty coffee shops in Taiwan. One day, San and her colleague, Weng, visited a specialty coffee shop, as their interest in specialty coffee was growing.
“When I drank Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, I was surprised to find that it tasted as fruity as the barista said it would. I didn’t know much about coffee at the time, so I was skeptical that it’d really taste like that.
For us, it was the cup that introduced us to the fascinating world of specialty coffee. Eventually, we realized that developing an interest in coffee thanks to a single special cup is an experience that is shared by many people, not just by us.
That’s why we hope that customers now step into the world of specialty coffee and slowly deepen their understanding of it through our coffee, which we make with care.”
Don’t be swayed by your own preferences
After her encounter with this special cup of coffee, San was eager to learn more about coffee, so she attended a coffee class at a specialty coffee shop. At the time the owner of the store was looking for staff and asked her if she would like to work there. She decided to accept the offer.
“The owner is a mentor to us. He was a judge at the time when there were only three judges for the Barista Championship in Taiwan, and he also represented Taiwan at the World Barista Championship (WBC). He taught me the basics of specialty coffee, how to brew coffee, how to taste coffee, and how to think about it. The influence he had on me is immeasurable.
One of the lessons we learned from him that we still value today is to listen carefully to the opinions of other team members and then discuss them together. He never stuck to a single way of doing things because he believed that the kind of coffee that would be in demand would change rapidly over time. Incidentally, I learned after I started working at the coffee shop that the special cup of coffee that surprised us so much and started us on this journey back then was made from coffee beans he had roasted.”
On the technical side, the owner of the store taught her how to brew coffee without relying on experience or intuition.
“As a professional, it is important to accurately judge the quality of the coffee itself. If a customer drinks a coffee that doesn’t suit his or her taste, he or she may think it is a poor quality coffee. But I explain to them that it is really good quality coffee, just not to their taste.”
Weng added, “We talk to our customers and understand their preferences before deciding which coffee to recommend. We make sure not to be swayed by our own preferences.”
When the company was founded, the first store opened in Taichung and was a workshop-like space that was too small for relaxed conversations with customers. The two felt that this was a problem, and in 2019, they opened their second store in Taoyuan, and created a space where they could talk with customers in a relaxed manner.
“We felt that if we could take the time to help our customers understand the world of specialty coffee, they would be able to enjoy the appeal of this world more. In fact, since we opened the café in Taoyuan, we feel that our customers have come to understand and like us more. The fact that we are able to integrate the opinions of our customers into our products when we create them is probably the reason we are able to continue operating the shop. The other reason is no doubt that we are able to provide delicious coffee thanks to Weng, who is in charge of roasting.”
Our choices change the future of the industry
Coffee Intro makes detailed information on all the coffees they handle public, from origin to producer, processing method to flavor.
“What is important in specialty coffee is transparency. I think it is important for specialty coffees to be transparent, and to disclose information such as the climate in which the coffee is grown, how it is grown, and what kind of flavor is produced in the end. Recently, I have seen a lot of products from other companies where the processing method on the package differs from the actual ingredients used in it and the sensation you get when you drink the coffee. Concealing information not only affects the roasting process, but also makes it difficult to convey accurate information to customers.
Coffee is something you put in your body, so we are open about everything we know when we serve customers. I believe that every choice we make will determine whether or not we can develop this industry in a healthy way.”
They met as colleagues in a commercial coffee shop about ten years ago, and have worked together in three different places.
“Though we left and joined the companies at different times, our strength lies in the fact that we have deepened our understanding of each other through the process of working together in the same workplaces, in the same culture and with the same values. We know what each other has gone through in the past, so we are able to quickly figure out the best path forward.
Of course, there are times when we have conflicting opinions, but our methods being different doesn’t change our desire to deliver good products to consumers. The secret to maintaining a good relationship is to be frank with each other. Sincerity is important not only to consumers but also to ourselves.”
Good relationships are something you build
They have been living together since they founded Coffee Intro.
“I like the fact that I can work at all hours of the day. There are days when I talk about work all the time from the time I get home until I go to bed. To put it another way, since we are running our own store, we can’t do well if we separate our work and personal lives. In any case, I think communication is important in order to remain sincere.”
Weng agrees. “If I have something bad to say, I can see San every day and talk about it. So I don’t have to hold on to it for an extended period of time. I think having many opportunities to talk with her has helped me keep my mind healthy.”
San says, “It’s not something that came naturally to us when we first started living together, but it’s something we’ve trained ourselves to do over time. There was a time when I didn’t know how to express myself and I couldn’t handle my frustration. When we were together for a long time, stress built up and it was not good for either of us. In order for a good relationship to last, you have to speak your minds to each other.”
They did not necessarily hit it off the moment they met. They have cultivated a relationship of mutual understanding through shared experience and repeated dialogue. This attitude is also reflected in the fact that they continue to base themselves in Taichung, a smaller market than Taipei.
“We’ve gotten to know a lot of customers over the past five years. In November of this year, we will be moving to a new location in the Taichung area, where we can have more space. However, leaving Taichung was actually one of our options.
Taichung is where many people learned about us, came to our store, and fell in love with our coffee. We are not originally from Taichung, nor did we go to school in Taichung. We came here to work, so all of our acquaintances and friends are people we met through coffee. In the end, we just couldn’t give up on our customers, who have supported us from the time we started until now, including the difficult times with COVID-19.”
Without sincerity, people cannot truly connect with each other. Perhaps that is the message that their way of life and business strategy, which emphasizes transparency regarding their ingredients and open dialogue, is trying to send us.
written originally in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi
Weng：I feel a great sense of happiness when I go to a café that sells coffee beans that I roasted and drink a cup of delicious coffee made with those beans. I feel as if my own children have left the nest and are doing very well in other places.
San：I feel happiest when I drink coffee as a customer at a café where I don't have any business relationships because I feel like I can taste the true flavor of the coffee. It’s difficult to have simple time like that when I'm working and thinking about all sorts of things.